You're in the home stretch of building your app, and can see the finish line. But before you make it publicly available to download or use, you need to create a launch plan.
It might be tempting to rely on the hype that comes with offering a new app. However, you shouldn't leave your success to chance. Creating a solid marketing plan for your app can help you capture the momentum and interest that comes with an initial launch, which means greater word of mouth and more new users.
How to start building your app's marketing plan
The details of your launch plan will vary, depending on the kind of app you've built and the market you're entering. However, the basics of most product launches can be distilled down to a list of tasks that will set you up for your big debut. In this article, we'll be covering what we see as the key elements of any product launch plan:
- Creating customer personas for your target demographics
- Mapping and refining your customer journeys
- Preparing all of your pre-launch must-haves
- Choosing the most effective marketing channels
- Creating your final app marketing plan and tracking your work
You don't have to have all of this information right now, but we recommend investing some time before launch to build out a basic marketing plan for your app. With that in hand, you'll find it's a lot easier to knock out the important tasks that aren't directly related to development, but which can have just as much of an impact on the ultimate success of your app.
Coming up with customer personas for your app
Before you dive into your launch plan, you first need to fully understand who your customers are: what they care about, what they struggle with, where they spend their time, how technically skilled they are, etc. That brings us to customer personas.
Essentially, customer personas are detailed, semi-fictional descriptions of your ideal users, covering everything from their age to their specific motivations for wanting to try your app.
Marketing is at its most successful when it's specific. Often, there's an impulse to aim for mass appeal—"everyone can benefit from this!" However, especially when you're an unknown player in the market, specificity is what will make you stand out. Think about it: would you rather buy a product that speaks directly to you and your wants/needs, or one that says it's for everyone?
That's where customer personas come in. Creating detailed customer personas lets you get as specific as possible in your marketing. You can have one, or more than one, although we'd recommend not going above three for your first app. Whenever you're working on a new app marketing initiative, you can look at your customer personas and ask yourself if this new campaign specifically appeals to any or all of them, or if you're aiming too broadly.
It's worth noting that customer personas aren't necessarily the same thing as user personas. In most cases, the customer and the user are the same—but not always. For example, with an edtech app, your customer might be school teachers and/or administrators, but the primary users would be the students.
What is a customer journey?
Now that you know who your prospective customers are, it's time to map out all the ways they can connect with your brand and what steps they'll take before they convert. This is called the "customer journey."
The customer journey is the path that your typical customer follows, as they move from not knowing about your product, to learning about it and becoming a prospect, to being an actual customer and advocate. That journey can be divided in many ways, but we like to think about it as a four-part process:
The awareness stage is where a would-be customer first discovers your app. This might happen through a keyword search on Google or in the app store, reading an article where your app is mentioned, seeing one of your posts on social media, clicking on a paid ad, etc.
Your goal during this stage is to extend your reach for as little money and effort as you can, so to start off, you'll want to cast a wide net, while still being as targeted as possible. At best, poorly targeted awareness campaigns will be ineffective; at worst, they can be a huge waste of money. For example, paying to advertise your app to the wrong audience can cost thousands and yield very few genuine customers.
Instead, you might consider creating compelling social media campaigns (both paid and organic), reaching out to legitimate industry publications, or publishing content marketing that answers a pressing question common within your target demographic. No matter what channel or strategy you use, your goal is both to make someone aware of your brand, and to give them a reason to stick around.
The consideration stage is where the prospect starts learning more about your app and considering whether they want to try it or not. This stage might be longer or shorter, depending on whether your app is free, has a free trial, offers paid upgrades, etc. In the case of a free app, for example, the consideration stage is usually quite short. If your app is expensive or requires a lot of work to implement, expect the consideration stage to last much longer.
Strong website copy and a good lead nurturing email campaign can help increase the number of visitors who move from consideration to decision. You can also run retargeting campaigns—digital ads that follow a specific prospect across different sites, reminding them of your product and increasing brand recall—if you have the budget for it, that is. Everything you do in the consideration stage should be focused on building trust and articulating the value of your app.
The decision stage is when the prospect seriously evaluates your product, deciding whether to download (and/or pay for) your app. In the case of a freemium or free trial model, the decision stage includes the period after they've downloaded the app, but haven't decided to pay you anything for it yet.
Prior to download, case studies and testimonials from current users are an effective way to convince prospects to take the plunge. If you offer a free trial—which we recommend wherever possible—you'll want to make the early user experience as polished and supportive as you can. Good in-app onboarding, FAQs for new users, and customer support can help here.
The loyalty stage happens after the sale is complete. During this phase, the user is actively evaluating your app, deciding if it lives up to the promises you made in your initial marketing. If your app meets or exceeds those expectations, the user is more likely to stay a customer for years to come, and hopefully start recommending your app to other people.
Once someone has become a customer, you can earn their loyalty by continuing to provide good customer and user experience through app updates and effective customer support.
Another way to increase loyalty is to send out user feedback surveys. Not only will this allow you to identify issues that may be eroding customer loyalty, but it will also show your customers that you care, making them more likely to speak about you positively.
You can also run a re-engagement email campaign for customers who have lapsed, or create a rewards program to encourage repeat purchases. To encourage current customers to spread the word, you can create a referral program, where customers who refer other users are rewarded with in-app benefits or credits.
Customize and optimize your customer journey
The specifics of the stages in your customer journey depend on your marketing strategy, your customers, and the details of your app. For example, one app might have customers who largely become aware of it through social media, where another app relies more on SEO. An app that costs $0.99 or is free is going to have much shorter consideration and decision stages than a pricy B2B app aimed at enterprise teams, where multiple people will be involved in the purchasing process.
Take all of these elements of your business model into consideration, and then map out your journey, preferably on a whiteboard or other physical writing surface. Take each stage and each touch point into consideration and look for ways to optimize. Your customer journey doesn't have to be perfect right out of the gate, but by mapping everything out, you'll know where to focus your time moving forward.
Preparing your app marketing must-haves
Now that you've mapped out your customer personas and customer journey, it's time to get into the specifics. While every app is different, there are a couple key strategies that you'll want to employ, no matter what market you're entering.
Do you really need a website, when you can just share the link from the app store? Yes. Here are a few reasons why:
- More flexibility with and control over the amount of text/photos/videos shown, and how they're displayed
- Control over the URL and security in knowing it won't suddenly change—imagine the frustration if you spent months getting links to your app, and then the app store hosting it changed their URL structure
- Ability to add links to your social media profiles, user communities, reviews and press features, etc.
- Increased ability to control search engine optimization and drive traffic through search engines (as well as through other platforms, and more accurately track that traffic and its source)
It doesn't have to be a huge or complicated site, especially to start with. You can create a simple landing page that has screenshots and videos of your app in action, a one-paragraph summary of what your app does and who it's for, as well as links to your social profiles.
As you get more and more users, you can add the following:
- A basic FAQ (and later, a more full-fledged knowledgebase)
- Screenshots and/or links to your press features and reviews
- Specific landing pages for different use-cases/user-personas
- Testimonials and other social proof
A PR and outreach plan
Before you launch, you'd do well to create an outreach plan. Again, you don't have to make this too complicated. A basic outreach plan might consist of 10-15 outlets or journalists to reach out to, which should only take a few hours to put together.
First, check out your go-to industry sources. For example, if you're operating in the fitness niche, this might include news sources about fitness and fitness-related technology. You'll also want to make a list of more general tech-oriented outlets—aim to have a roughly even split of niche-oriented publications and generalized ones. Look for sites that publish weekly or monthly roundups of app news and launches, themed lists of apps ("X fitness apps to get in shape for summer"), or do interviews with app creators.
Once you've created a list of places and/or writers that might be a good fit for your app, you need to organize all that information. That way, you're ready to reach out as soon as your app is available for download. You'll want to include:
- The outlet's name
- The writer's name
- Their submission guidelines (if publicly posted)
- Their contact information
- Whether they're a generalized or niche publication
- The type of post you're aiming for (interview, roundup, launch feature, etc.)
It can't be stressed enough: if they have submission or pitching guidelines publicly posted, make sure you follow those guidelines to a T. Many writers get hundreds of emails a week, so not following guidelines is a good way to get your email ignored or deleted.
When you reach out, make sure to make your email short, sweet, and to the point. Here's a rough starter template:
I hope you're well! I'm reaching out about your [insert type of posts/name of series here—"Fitness App Roundup series"] with an app for potential inclusion. I created [app name] to do [insert unique selling proposition here—"help young, busy professionals fit in workouts around their work schedule"]. I thought it might be a good fit, as it's [1-2 reasons it's aligned with their interests—"designed to help users create a sustainable fitness habit"].
As of today, it's available to [download/use] [on/at] [locations—"the iOS app store," the URL where people can use it]. There's also more information on the app and several high-res screenshots on the site: [site URL]
I'd be happy to answer any questions or provide any more information you need. Thank you for your time!
You'll want to customize that template to match the details of your app and the publication/writer, whether they're a general publication or a niche one, etc. A good rule of thumb is to write an email that's easy to skim, but also thorough enough that the writer can include your app in a post without having to get more details from you. Remember, you want to make their job as easy as possible.
Once you've created a template that works for you, you can easily reach out to multiple outlets and writers on launch day. Don't forget to customize each email to match the recipient!
Extending your reach across marketing channels
Aside from those basics, we'd recommend that you pick 1-3 of the following, tailoring your choices to match your current resources, as well as your would-be users and where they're most likely to spend their browsing time.
Social media marketing
What it is: No matter who your app is for, there are now multiple social media options to fit the type of content you want to post. LinkedIn, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest—one of them could be how your next user finds you.
Of course, keeping up a social media presence on every single platform would be an overwhelming task for a small team, let alone one person. If you go this route, we recommend you pick one to two platforms to focus on, and add more as you have the time and energy.
Even if you don't make heavy use of social media marketing, it's a good idea to have at least a placeholder profile on all major social media networks. That way, nobody else can reserve your username, and the profile is there if you do want to get it up and running later.
Pros: Can reach a lot of people without spending much money, can make people feel more positively about your app (via positive associations with the content/posts you share, helpful replies to posts, etc.)
Cons: Your audience and ability to reach them can be changed without warning (via platform and algorithm updates); requires time and engagement to build an organic audience.
Good for you if: You know a lot of your users are likely to be on a specific platform, or you have a large personal social following that you can use to kickstart your app marketing.
What it is: Through email opt-in forms on your site (and sometimes other places, like a sign-up sheet at an event), you collect the emails of people who are interested in your app, and then engage those leads with the intention of converting them to customers.
You can also collect the leads of your current app users, to increase user retention—for example, sending emails with onboarding tips for new users, or following up with users after their free trial has lapsed.
Pros: Isn't affected by algorithm changes or social media trends, can be automated without decreasing effectiveness
Cons: Can be difficult to collect email addresses if you aren't driving a lot of traffic to your site
Good for you if: You plan on collecting emails (whether through your site or other means) over the long term, and want to make the most of them.
What it is: "PPC" stands for "pay per click," and "pay-per-click ads" are exactly what they sound like. Through advertising platforms (most commonly, Google Ads, or ads viewed on a specific social network, like Facebook or Instagram), you can put your app in front of a huge audience. You only pay for the amount of people who click on your ad (hence the name), which means they can be surprisingly cost-effective...as long as you have a high conversion rate from clicks to users. That usually requires having a well-written landing page for your app.
Pros: Great way to quickly build traction and exposure
Cons: Can easily become costly, so you need to be familiar with current best practices and strategies to be able to optimize your ROI
Good for you if: You have an advertising budget and experience with PPC ad campaigns (both running them and writing copy for them).
What it is: As you might guess, content marketing is marketing... that involves content. It's important to note that this isn't the same thing as copywriting, where the sole purpose of the content is to persuade the reader to become a customer. Instead, content marketing focuses on providing high-quality, educational materials.
This content is typically blog posts, but can also include videos, podcasts, ebooks and white papers, webinars—you get the idea. The important thing is that the reader gets value from the content itself, whether they become a customer or not. Over time, people who consistently consume your content are more likely to become customers and/or tell others about your brand, creating an organic marketing machine.
Pros: One of the best ways to improve search engine rankings organically, high-quality content has a long shelf-life and can continue to improve rankings/bring you customers for years
Cons: Slower time to get ROI than other methods, can be time-consuming (if you're writing all the blog posts yourself) or expensive (if you have to outsource creating high-quality content)
Good for you if: You have deep subject matter expertise and/or writing skills to draw on, or the skills to create content another way—podcast, video, etc. This could also be a great fit if your app serves a specific niche or audience and doesn't have much competition within that niche. That will make it much easier for your content to rank well in search results.
Putting it all together into an app marketing plan
After taking time to create these separate elements, you can pull it all together into a plan. Your app marketing plan needs to include both one-time launch activities (like your initial PR efforts), and ongoing marketing work to maintain momentum. The easiest way to start breaking it down is to think about the who, what, where, and how often for each marketing task. For example, "I'll be posting 15-30 second videos of the app in action to Twitter on Tuesdays and Thursdays, every week." From there, you might decide to record and schedule all of the videos for the month during the first week of the month. Or, you might do it every week—whatever makes the most sense for your schedule.
Tracking your results
While analytics for marketing (and how to use them to improve your app marketing plan and its ROI) is its own topic, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention it here. To set yourself up for success, make sure that you've implemented an analytics tracker for your website. That will let you see where traffic is coming from, which traffic sources are converting the best, and the demographic breakdowns of your visitors and users. To learn more about how to track and make use of that data, head here.
Launching an app can feel overwhelming, but we've created a spreadsheet to help you stay organized throughout the process. You can download it here. Once you open it, you'll see the following:
- The launch plan sheet, with a pre-created checklist to cover the fundamentals of your launch, and space to add tasks for the platforms/tactics you want to use.
- The PR launch list sheet, so you can keep your outreach efforts organized and efficient.
- The marketing plan sheet, to help you plan your future work. There are columns to denote how often a task needs to be done, and whether or not you'll be "batching" the work (which means, for example, scheduling all of your tweets for the month at once).
With an organized plan and the tips we've shared today, you'll be prepared to create the best launch possible for your new app.